I suppose it adds something to the experience of watching The Break-Up to know that its stars, Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn, are serious off the screen. It would have added infinitely more, on the other hand, had they somehow managed to be funny on it.
Unfortunately, laughs are few and stunningly far between in this comedy, which Vaughn played a major role in conceiving and bringing to the cineplex. Following the phenomenal success of Wedding Crashers, the actor suddenly found himself in the position of Hollywood player. Too suddenly, perhaps. Just when he appeared poised to assume the title of Funniest Guy in the Movies, he's given us what may prove to be the Summer's Biggest Disappointment.
As the film opens, Vaughn's character meets Aniston's at a Cubs game and wins her over by insulting her date. Cut to the opening credits, a montage of photographs designed to inform us that Gary and Brooke have become a couple. They hug. They make goofy faces for the camera. They frolic. By the time the story gets rolling in earnest, the two have purchased a condo together and fallen into a comfortable routine that teeters on the brink of becoming a rut.
She works at an upscale art gallery. He runs a Chicago tour-bus company with his two brothers. It's unclear what exactly made these two think they were compatible in the first place; by the time we get to know them, the relationship is already unraveling. Gary comes home after a hard day's work and just wants to collapse on the couch and watch the game for a while. Brooke points out that their families will arrive for dinner momentarily, and that she too had a busy day at work and has slaved over a hot stove since she got home. Their bickering is numbingly banal. When their guests arrive, the viewer is likely to assume the actual comic portion of the comedy is about to kick in. The viewer must learn to live with disappointment.
What ensues instead is a mishmash of semi-gags and half-formed ideas, which never coalesces into organized amusement. Ann-Margret appears in this scene as Aniston's mother, only to vanish forever as inexplicably as she arrived. Vaughn's real-life buddy Jon Favreau turns up as Gary's buddy John. Though the room is filled with stars, the scene is turned over to an actor by the name of John Michael Higgins, who plays Aniston's brother, a peppy chap who leads a men's chorus. He decides to lead the dinner guests in a sing-along. Typical of the picture's lazy, haphazard stabs at entertainment, the gimmick has neither a punch line nor a point. It would have been more fun just to watch them finish their starch course.
After dinner, the couple's frustrations come to a boil, they itemize one another's shortcomings, and Aniston announces she's leaving Vaughn. The problem: She's not quite as crazy about leaving the condo, and he's not about to budge, either. So, faster than you can say The War of the Roses, each has staked out territory within the place, and the psychological games have begun.
Sadly, these are as derivative and uninspired as the premise itself. I'm certain there are failed sitcom pilots out there with more visionary brilliance. You see, Brooke changes her mind once she calms down. She really doesn't want to split up after all. But for some reason that is never explained, she feels it inappropriate to divulge this key bit of information to Gary.
Instead, she consults her best friend (Joey Lauren Adams) and her boss (Judy Davis). They advise her, respectively, to make him jealous and to undergo a complete bikini wax -- a Telly Savalas. Not surprisingly, these strategies fail to produce the desired result -- a repentant, drooling Gary.
On the contrary, Gary demonstrates his indifference by upping the ante at every turn. He informs one of Brooke's suitors that her weak spot is apple martinis. He invites another to join him in an extended game of video football. When Brooke returns late one night from one of her pretend dates, she finds Gary and his pals playing strip poker with hookers. By the time she breaks down and surrenders the tearful truth, it's too late. Each has inflicted too much injury on the other. Their love is a casualty of escalated foolishness, and the viewer's interest in both characters has long since gone missing in action.
Virtually everything The Break-Up attempts to do was done better, and with far more style and freshness, in the least memorable episode of "Friends." Vaughn is squandered as an oversized-man-child Ross, while Aniston does a Rachel for whom no one remembered to write comic dialogue. The biggest difference is, we stop caring whether the two will work things out about half an hour in. Plus, "Friends" was amusing rather than mean-spirited.
This is a romantic comedy with zero romance and almost as little comedy. Other than a handful of Vaughn's trademark verbal flourishes and a scene or two he shares with Favreau, nothing here will come close to breaking you up. After all, what's so funny about a complete lack of peace, love and understanding?